It’s estimated the first vines were cultivated in the Rhone Valley 600 years before the birth of Christ. This makes the Rhône one of the world’s oldest wine regions - ever! Some say the ancient Greeks were responsible for bringing Syrah grapes to the Rhône Valley from the Persian city of Shiraz. Others say Syrah arrived 50 years later, when the Greeks fled the wrath of King Cyrus of Anshan. But DNA testing has led scientists to conclude Syrah originated in the Rhône itself. Whichever you believe, the Rhône Valley has long been a region of significance.
The Romans had a huge influence on Rhône viticulture in the early centuries, but when the Romans disappeared, so did interest in wine from the region. Appeal in the Rhône rose again when the Popes arrived in Avignon in the 13th Century, awash with money. Papal rule was established, seven successive Popes governed the city, and wine production grew dramatically.
Where is Rhône Valley?
You’ll find the Rhône Valley in the south of France. It extends south of Lyon (France’s 2nd largest city) to the medieval city of Avignon in the south east. Lyon is just two hours by the high-speed TVG train from Paris, and the Rhône wineries are an hour’s drive from Lyon. Tours are plentiful, and are the best way to enjoy a guided access to many of the wineries.
Sub-regions and climate
The Rhône is generally divided into two sub-regions with very different traditions. The northern Rhône produces reds from Syrah grapes. The climate is continental, with unforgiving winters and warm summers. The Mistral wind means northern Rhône is cooler than southern Rhône, and the breeze helps keep the grapes dry, reducing the risk of fungus growth. The southern Rhône produces a wide range of red, white and rosé. It has a Mediterranean climate, with mild winters and hot summers. The rugged landscape shelters valleys from the Mistral, resulting in microclimates, which results in a diversity of wine.
What is Côtes du Rhône?
Côtes du Rhône is the wine-growing Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée of the Rhône region. Côtes du Rhône wines are Red, White and Rosé, typically made from Grenache for Red and Rosé, and Grenache Blanc for whites.
The future of Rhône Valley wine
Rhône wines are seen as good value compared to First Growth Claret or Grand Cru Burgundy. This has seen their popularity grow around the world. But what’s really captured the interest of wine lovers is the food-friendly nature of Rhône and Rhône-style wines: they're aromatic, occasionally big and bold, and always finish with tremendous dryness - which makes them a perfect partner with Mediterranean food.